A cultural historian tours the sites of America's strangest fringe beliefs—from the famed Mount Shasta where the ancient race (or extra-terrestrials) called Lemurians are said to roam, to the museum containing the last remaining "evidence" of the great Kentucky Meat Shower—to explore how these wild theories take hold and why Americans keep inventing and re-inventing them decade after decade.
... fascinating, troubling, compassionate and — in the end — deeply thoughtful ... Dickey uses such incidents not merely to tell good campfire stories but to illustrate their shared darker themes — a deep distrust of science and government, amplified both by self-promoters and by conspiracy lovers. And he notes that scientific arrogance and excessive government secrecy have fueled these fires ... There’s nothing startlingly new or transformative in these conclusions. But Dickey’s sense of history reminds us of the complex reasons our odder beliefs endure. It’s not that we necessarily want weirdness, he suggests, but we do want wonder, we want the freedom of possibility. So there’s beauty and even comfort in the idea of 'a world beyond our understanding, a world we can glimpse here and there but never fully see.'
These are very broad historiographical strokes, and Dickey is much more inventive where his subject is narrower and more recent. But he is right to ask: How did these shocks play out in the American context? ... With so many outrageous lies in mainstream currency, Dickey’s focus on aliens feels almost beside the point. But, although he declines to write directly about the conspiracy theories that helped elect our ludicrous outsider of a president, it’s impossible not to draw a parallel between the classic conspiracy theorist’s fear-driven fantasies and the 'Birther' wave Trump himself promulgated during Barack Obama’s time in office ... As popular histories go, The Unidentified is unusually terrifying, like one long gesture at an unspeakable truth Dickey is unable to express directly: the paranoid crisis afflicting American culture is exactly as bad as it seems.
... a thoughtful, searching book about people’s deep investment in unexplained phenomena ... forthright about its thesis and develops it further ... The point of Dickey’s journeying is never to prove eyewitnesses and believers wrong, although he acknowledges that he experienced nothing extraordinary himself during his travels. The point is to find out what drives the faithful ... By treating the iconography of the weird as an equal-opportunity bin of elements to be combined with postmodern abandon, the artist of the weird rebels against what passes for expertise in cryptid and UFO research. What results is a collage that cheerfully announces the meaninglessness of its subject.